The Week That Was
March 15-21, 1999

Ominous news last week, from the Second Annual Great Backyard Bird Count project of the National Audubon Society: “Last year, we saw robins in higher than average numbers farther north than usual,” reports Frank Gill, vice president for science. Robins were seen in Nova Scotia in February, along with sightings of large flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles in parts of the Northeast earlier in the month.

Global warming again? We’ll just have to wait on Al Gore to announce the bad news, perhaps over the Gore-Internet. In the meantime, we make do with a statement from the director of the Cornell University Laboratory for Ornithology: “There are always more robins wintering in northern regions than most people realize.”

Maybe the birds are attracted by the Arctic ozone hole. NASA held a press conference back in 1992, suggesting a “hole over Kennebunkport.” Of course, there was no such thing. However, it helped with the NASA budget and pleased Senator Gore (then known as the “ozone man”). His subsequent Senate Resolution persuaded President George Bush to advance the production ban on CFCs from 2000 to 1995. You are still paying the cost especially if you are not willing to buy black-market CFC for your car air conditioner.

Of course, there IS another theory, only slightly wackier. We remember seeing a paperback many years ago, written by someone from the Hollow-Earth Society. Right on the garish front cover, showing a hole at the North Pole, was printed this challenging question to prove the point: “Why do birds fly further north?” Why indeed?

Speaking of ozone, they are still looking for that feared upward trend in solar ultraviolet radiation that’s supposed to go with ozone depletion. No reports yet of such an increase, except for the spurious one, published in Science in Nov. 1993. It reported a 35% per-year rise (no kidding!), until Pat Michaels and yours truly discovered and published the rather elementary statistical error in the analysis of the observations -- which promptly reduced the trend to zero. This made some people look rather ridiculous. As reported in the LA Times, Prof. Sherwood Rowland, of ozone depletion fame, had exulted over the Science paper: “Now at last we have good data.” Well, actually, the data were OK; it was just the conclusion that was somewhat off target.

But never fear. Your tax dollars will find that pesky UV trend. There is now something called the “U.S. Interagency UV Monitoring Program.” It’s “interagency” because six federal agencies are feeding at the trough, each with its own network spread across 50 states. (Actually there are nine separate overlapping networks, because EPA has two and NOAA has three networks, each with its own name and budget.) You can be sure they won’t rest until they have a monitoring station in every congressional district!

In case you missed it, the National Weather Service now issues routine forecasts for UV radiation. Hard to see how they can do this reliably since it depends on cloudiness, which still eludes them. Scattered UV perhaps, with a probability of, say, 30%? But at least the forecasts for nocturnal UV are absolutely 100% sure.

While hyperactive on UV, the government has been sluggish on disposing of spent nuclear fuel from reactors. After collecting billions from electric utilities (i.e., you and me), still no progress. Not for nothing do they refer to the Nuclear Waste Disposal Act of 1982 as the “Geologists’ Full Employment Act.” Now the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (chairman Frank Murkowski) is building a fire under the Department of Energy, forcing the DOE to set up interim storage in Nevada, followed by permanent underground storage there.

Don’t hold your breath, though. We’ve seen all this before. Just wait for the demonstrations by anti-nuclear Greenies and law suits by communities on the route between reactors and Nevada. The basic problem is still the unscientific and impossible EPA requirement, based on the discredited “linear, no-threshold” hypothesis, i.e., that one impact of radiation on a cell will start a cancer.

More about the LNT hypothesis next week…..

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